The adult hedgehog’s natural diet mainly consists of beetles, caterpillars, earthworms, millipedes and earwigs with slugs and snails making up less than 5% of the diet.
They will only eat slugs and snails when they are starving and there is nothing else for them to eat and often with fatal consequences.
Hedgehogs need water to survive and avoid dehydration and death
What you can feed the hedgehog
In the winter months, if not hibernating hedgehogs can be desperate for food and need supplementary feeding to keep them alive, you can feed them on:
- wet or dry meat based dog or cat food (not fish or gravy)
- dried meal worms
- sunflower hearts
- crushed digestive biscuits
- a shallow bowl of water
Slugs are very hungry creatures and will often eat the food put in place for hedgehogs so as a deterrent for slugs you could wrap some copper tape around the bowl . This will give them a slight electric shock and deter them from getting at the food. It wont harm the hedgehogs.
Bread is of no nutritional value so should not be given.
Hedgehogs should not be given milk as they are lactose intolerant and this can cause diarrhoea, dehydration and death
Hoglets should be fed with a milk substitute such as Esbilac which contains all the fats, vitamins and minerals they need. Under no circumstances should you give them cow's milk. If you find a nest of hoglets seek immediate advice from your local hedgehog rescue or vet
Lungworm is the common name used to describe infestation of the lungs with parasitic worms. Slugs can carry lungworm, and the hedgehog becomes infected after eating infected slugs.
A hedgehog with lungworm will have severe breathing problems, will be underweight and also have secondary infections. Once the worms are well established, there is little that can be done to save the hedgehog and it will die a slow and agonising death as it struggles to breathe.
This condition could be greatly reduced if hedgehogs could access more gardens and more people put out supplementary food for them particularly towards and throughout autumn when they need to build up their body weight/fat reserves for winter hibernation and also in spring when hedgehogs wake from their long hibernation.
There is another danger hedgehogs face when eating slugs and that is when the slug has eaten slug pellets. This can cause secondary poisoning when the slug is eaten by the hedgehog.
PLEASE DO NOT USE SLUG PELLETS, USE AN ALTERNATIVE OPTION WHICH IS WILDLIFE FRIENDLY
To avoid the food you put out being eaten by pets or foxes you could buy or make a feeding station that is difficult for anything larger than a hedgehog to access.
How to make a hedgehog feeding station
Buy a 32 litre under bed storage box
Cut a hole in the narrow end measuring between 10cm and 13cm square
Sandpaper the sharp edges and cover the edges with waterproof tape on the inside and outside
Line the box with newspaper and put the food (meat based cat or dog food) and water furthest from the entrance to prevent other animals getting at it
Place a large rock or brick on the lid to stop cats or foxes accessing it.